The Greenwash Checklist

Talk about a To-Do list. A new report from London-based Futerra Sustainability Communications and BSR, an organization devoted to green business strategies, includes a 14-point “Greenwashing Checklist” for companies undertaking and publicizing their sustainability measures.

First, some stats from the 41-page study:

• Only 13% of people trust advertising and approx 10% across the U.S. and U.K. trust green claims.

• Four out of 5 people are continuing to buy green in the current recession, with 19% buying more.

• Media coverage on greenwashing exploded by 200% between 2006 and 2007, and doubled in 2008 to 2,300 stories.

What this means is that we have a consumer who is quickly becoming more educated about the environmentally friendly products he or she is buying…. even though their level of skepticism about advertising and green claims remains strong.

Knowing this, companies might be tempted to slap a vague environmental claim on their product and let it go at that. But this is no part-time job. The level of public interest in green products and the response by industry has been such that the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing its own so-called "green guides" in order to tighten advertising claims and enforce limitations.

The Futerra report itself might be self-serving to a slight degree, but the questions it poses are legitimate and of universal importance to any company involved in environmental initiatives. The questions range from the ethereal to the practical:

• Is the topic of your message a significant environmental achievement?

• Could your claim be supported by a credible third party?

• Is it easy for people to understand your claim and its significance?

• Is the message honest and not self-glorifying?

Put the recession aside for a moment, and environmental concerns move right back up the list of top consumer concerns. Whether or not they’re buying right now, consumers will be down the road. The time to get everything in order, certified and documented is now.